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Credit and Respectability – Are We Journalists by Name or by Action?
2004-01-05 07:56
by Jon Weisman

As Alex Belth writes today, Will Carroll and Derek Zumsteg of Baseball Prospectus broke the story in August that an agreement was in the works to allow Pete Rose to return to baseball this year. The mainstream press and Major League Baseball pilloried Carroll and Zumsteg at the time, as much for their unnamed-sources story as for "who the hell are these guys to break a story like this." However, Rose’s admissions this week are logically part of the effort to make that agreement happen, basically vindicating Carroll and Zumsteg.

Belth interviewed me today for his article, perhaps because I had written this piece at the time of the Baseball Prospectus story. Belth wonders whether this event will be a watershed moment, marking a time that the mainstream press starts to take outsiders seriously, whether those outsiders be up-and-comers like Alex and me or up-and-arrivers like BP. As you can see from my quote, a better reason for people like Carroll and Zumsteg and their BP colleagues to be taken seriously is not because they got this scoop, but for the consistent quality of their work.

I had some further thoughts in talking about this with Alex, which I'd like to share here.

I have a very precise line of thinking about the nature of scoops and I think it's relevant today. Basically, I trusted Will and Derek, but I didn't trust their sources because they were off the record. I'd still be an advocate for waiting until two sources are willing to go on the record before reporting a story, because once you lower that standard, I think you risk being wrong on a story and consequently losing your readership's trust. I do realize, though, that not everyone agrees with me. In any case, I'm thrilled that Will and Derek weren't led astray.

I also have to say that, though there is no Baseball Tonight on right now for me to watch and I haven't paid attention to SportsCenter's coverage (for example), I don't think there have been nearly enough mea culpas in the mainstream press, which seemed to attack - viciously at times - Will and Derek's report. Will Outside the Lines return to this story? Are they bringing Will back? I only think that these events will help outsiders like BP and bloggers like us get respect if we're given credit. Rob Neyer, whom I like and respect, has gotten considerably more credit - to the extent that some consider he has broken the story - just for noting that Rose's book deal was timed with his ABC interview, right? Astute observation by Rob, but he's hardly deserving of more credit than the BP guys.

I guess it's a function of ESPN being the de facto New York Times of the sports world. Unless someone, inside or outside ESPN, steps up this week and points back to Will and Derek's report, then I think little victory has been had. I take that back - the other possibility is that ESPN will stay silent about it now, but look closer at Baseball Prospectus in terms of future hires.

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